Monday, June 30, 2008

A Foodie's Food Court

When I first visited the new Comcast Center, I stood in awe. Together with a friend, I had wandered in to see if the food court had opened. What a scene we discovered - four stories of sculpted people walking on beams above your head, with a two story television in front of you. Not to mention the playful fountain out front, adjacent to Table 31's outdoor seating. It is to an office lobby what Cirque du Soleil is to a street performer. And when a Godiva employee circulating amidst the crowd with free chocolate, I knew I had died and gone to corporate heaven.

I will, with no small measure of embarrassment, admit that I have been so smitten with the Center and its lobby that I dragged my mother, visiting from out-of-town, in to see the tv. Here's the interesting part -- at 8:00 p.m. on a Saturday when we visited, there were just as many people standing in the lobby watching the tv as at noon on a weekday. It's that good.

Because this does purport to be a food blog, I will move from the tv topic to the food court itself, which, to describe as impressive, would be an understatement. DiBruno's has opened an outpost here, in a creatively designed space that takes up the equivalent of three food court store fronts. It offers its best -- sandwiches, hot and other prepared foods, interesting beverages, and some of its gourmet pantry products, too. Like its 18th street store, though, ordering is a bit of a free-for-all, a process that I wonder will survive in the lunch rush. I still maintain that the DiBruno's "Napoleon" sandwich, featuring turkey, brie, caramelized onions and mango chutney, remains one of the best sandwich creations out there, even if they did switch the roll to something strange with caraway seeds.

The sushi stand isn't bad, although it suffers from many fast food sushi's problems of rice that tastes like it was molded long ago. The fish itself is tasty and the roll offerings are relatively varied and unique. The seafood place, Under the C, has a lot of promise. Eating shrimp cocktail in a food court for $5 was a fun novelty, as was being able to pick up fresh fish to prepare at home here. The produce stand looks good, too, as does the juice bar. Still to come (or perhaps already arrived): Mexican Post take-out and Susanna Foo's Dumpling stand. There's a bit of a basement feel to the area, compounded by oddly cacophonous metal chairs, but the food remains extraordinary for a food court.

LaScala's seems to attract the longest lines in the food court. Which may have a lot to do with their choppy service. Known for their brick-oven pizza, which they offer in at least eight varieties that I could immediately count, LaScala's also offers salads and pastas. Although all of the food is prominently displayed, a menu is missing. As is a system for handling customers. And recently, its registers were down, forcing cashiers that had not been forced to do math in a while do a lot of math, including calculate tax. I got the Mediterranean salad, with crabmeat, lobster, shrimp and grape tomatoes served with a citrus dressing. I liked it; the crabmeat was generously portioned and the lobster, while a little tough, was still tasty. I may not brave the chaos again, however, given the different options here.

Looking for dessert? Try Termini Brothers' ridiculously-expensive-but-well-worth-it cannoli offerings. At $4 each, it's worth savoring every bite. Don't forget Buck's County Coffee for the post-lunch coma you've induced.

The Comcast Center is located at 17th and Arch Streets, with its main entrance facing JFK Boulevard. The food court is open from 8 am to 7 pm, Monday through Friday and 10-5 on Saturday. The lobby is open 24 hours.

No comments: